The Telecom Commission, the apex decision-making body at the Department of Telecom, is scheduled to meet on January 9 to discuss relief package for the sector, according to an official source. Also, the panel is expected to take a call on allowing 100 per cent FDI in the telecom sector through the automatic route following the abolition of the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) by the government. “The Telecom Commission is scheduled to meet in the evening of January 9,” the source told PTI. The commission is likely to discuss the relief package recommended by an inter-ministerial group (IMG) for the telecom sector which is reeling under debt of around Rs 4.5 lakh crore, the source added.
In its September meeting, the Telecom Commission had in- principle approved the extension of time period for the payment of spectrum bought in auctions by telcos to 16 years from the current 10 years, as recommended by the IMG. It had also approved the IMG recommendation to lower the interest rate charged over penalties imposed on service providers with slight modifications. The commission had sought a legal opinion on some of the points it approved at its previous meeting in September-end before firming up its view. The panel had also sought views of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) on IMG’s proposal to relax spectrum cap as it will provide exit path to loss-making mobile service providers and ease consolidation in the sector.
Trai last month recommended that the ceiling on spectrum held by mobile operators within a particular band should be removed, while suggesting a 50 per cent cap on combined radiowave holding in efficient bands like 700 MHz, 800 MHz and 900 MHz. If these suggestions are accepted by the DoT, they would provide a major relief for the soon-to-be-merged Idea Cellular and Vodafone, as they would have breached the spectrum cap in certain locations under the existing rules. It would also enable aggressive newcomer Reliance Jio to pick up additional spectrum, if needed, in bands like 800 MHz. Trai has also suggested that the overall cap on holding spectrum should be raised from the current 25 per cent to 35 per cent.
Besides this, TC is likely to consider raising of FDI limit up to 100 per cent for all telecom services including infrastructure through automatic route. At present 100 per cent FDI is allowed, of which up to 49 per cent investment in a company can be done through the automatic route. The inflow of overseas investment beyond that requires government approval because of security reasons. According to the source, the panel may also consider approving of grants for IITs to set up lab for indigenous development and testing of 5G technologies.